A University of Southern California Media Lab study entitled “How to Make Music Radio Appealing To The Next Generation” confirms what’s obvious to anyone born more recently than the second Reagan Administration: Today’s radio is about as relevant to 12-24 year olds as is Eminem to your average grandmother.
According to the study, 85 percent of the 2,000 teen-to-twenty-somethings interviewed claimed they would choose to listen to music from their MP3 players rather than traditional radio. 54 percent said they’d prefer to listen to music over the Internet as compared to the 30 percent who chose AM/FM. And 31 percent were exposed to new music over the radio versus 72 percent who found that new music on the Internet.
Bridge Ratings president, David Van Dyke had this to say about the results of the survey:
“While it appears that the next generation has responded negatively to traditional radio, the reasons are rooted in radio’s abandonment of the 12-24 year old over the last 10 years. This age group appears to want radio to step up, change for the better and challenge them with a new way of presenting radio that is customized for their lifestyles and tastes.”
And maybe that same age group is just as anxiously awaiting the rebirth of the abacus.
The decline in radio listenership among today’s youth is part of a larger trend. It’s no secret, for example, that newspapers are increasingly ignored by this same demographic. And, in the case of newspapers, the same kind of recommendations have been made. “Grab young readers’ attention by creating stories relevant to their interests.”
What seems to be missing is the realization that those who were raised on the Web—that group of 12-24 year olds—are accustomed to gathering information and entertainment from a variety of sources—grabbing a single news item from Site A, seeking celebrity tittle-tattle from Site B, pulling the previous night’s Daily Show from BitTorrent, and listening to new music from a variety of online sources (some, admittedly, less savory than others). And the devices used to consume that material are increasingly portable—iPods, mobile phones, and laptops.
I like traditional radio and newspapers as much as the next middle-aged guy, but I understand that their formats necessarily limit them. The closest thing terrestrial radio can offer to the kind of customized music experience found with an iPod or the Internet are the handful of buttons on a car radio that provide a vague promise of escape from this week’s saccharin beat-princess to a drag racing commercial. Satellite radio, with its jillions of commercial-free, highly focused offerings, comes closer to the mark. But currently it’s a tough sell to this group. The equipment isn’t cheap and monthly service fees make little sense to someone who’s accustomed to getting music by the truckful for free. And newspapers? With ready access to 24-hour cable news and one-click Internet headline aggregators, gathering news from a daily paper seems quaint.
Is traditional media—radio, newspapers, network news—dead? Not yet. But their demise is likely to be accelerated by those who maintain that they can regain consumers by doing nothing more than contouring their content to “the kids.” It’s not that 12-24 year olds aren’t interested in the doings of the day. It’s just that they’ve found more expedient and customizable ways to devour them. Savvy print publications have found that they can boost their youthful readership by posting their content online. Radio stations that have lost listeners to iPods regain a percentage by streaming their programs over the Internet.
Water/bridge, genie/bottle, milk/spilled, Elvis/building. State it any way you like, media consumption has changed for good and all. Those media organizations that hope to survive will embrace those changes and pioneer new ones. Those that don’t; shake hands with Mr. Abacus. The kids are alright. Offer content in ways they understand and today’s media moguls may be as well.